Roz Ryan has lost count of the number of Roxie Harts, Velma Kellys, and Billy Flynns she’s worked with over the 15 years she’s been in and out of her role as the pragmatically corrupt Matron “Mama” Morton in Chicago, but she’s certainly been enjoying the ride — and the company.
“Everyone wants to do this show, and everyone brings something different to it,” says Ryan, who’s shared the stage with dozens of familiar faces, including Broadway favorites Bebe Neuwirth, Tom Wopat, and Charlotte d’Amboise. “I’ve met and worked with people I’ve idolized for years. I mean, George Hamilton was my Billy, Usher was my Billy... these are amazing performers.”
Nevertheless, when Ryan takes the stage in Act I with her killer solo, “When You’re Good to Mama,” you forget who’s waiting in the wings: she’s got you in the palm of her hand, and you’re loving it — especially when she gets her flirt on (“You like that, don’t you, baby?”).
“I’m an old nightclub singer from Detroit, so breaking the fourth wall is right up my alley,” she says. “And [Mama] will hustle anyone for what she wants.”
Still, it’s more perseverance and an ongoing love for the role than hustle that led Ryan back this past October 21st — the date she surpassed the longstanding 223-week record shared by Charlotte d’Amboise (as Roxie Hart) and Marcia Lewis (as Mama). Upon hitting the 224-week mark, she observed: “I’ve had the thrill of celebrating many milestones and record-breakings with Chicago over the years, but this is an extra special one for me. I am beyond grateful to...the countless cast members, crew members and musicians with whom I’ve shared these past 15 years. And it’s certainly not over, darlings — the best is yet to come!”
Terra C. MacLeod (as Velma Kelly) and the cast. Photo: Jeremy Daniel
The Motor City native, who began singing in local clubs at 15, made her debut with Broadway’s Chicago company in 1999, returning to the production every year since. And although she has stayed for as long as 14 months at a time, three-month stints are more the norm due to a career that took off TV-wise in the mid-1980s with the groundbreaking sitcom Amen, spread to voiceovers for the Cartoon Network and Disney Channel, and now includes a starring role on The Rickey Smiley Show — which just entered its second season on TV One Network.
Yet she never tires of donning her tailored Mama Morton tux (with its tasteful wisp of black lace at cleavage central) and reuniting with Kander and Ebb’s “musical vaudeville.” (Featuring, of course, Bob Fosse’s signature choreographic moves lovingly reproduced for this revival, to Tony-winning effect, by Ann Reinking.) “This is a real Broadway show,” states Ryan. “It relies strictly on the book, music and talent...nothing extra...no special effects.”
Should Chicago be new to you — after 17 years on Broadway and the Oscar-winning 2002 film version — the plot revolves around the incarceration and trial of Roxie Hart (Bianca Marroquin), who has cuckolded her husband, offed her lover, and will stop at nothing to keep paparazzi interest stoked. In the slammer, she falls under the greedy guidance of Morton, hires “silver-tongued” lawyer Billy Flynn (Ryan Silverman), and faces off with former star inmate Velma Kelly (Amra-Faye Wright).
“What’s so wonderful about this show is that everyone has a moment in which they get to really shine,” says Ryan. Roxie’s husband Amos (played by Tony nominee Christopher Fitzgerald) has the winning “Mister Cellophane” number, reporter Mary Sunshine (R. Lowe) trills brilliantly in “A Little Bit of Good in Everyone,” and every murderess under Mama’s care gets her moment in the sizzler “Cell Block Tango.”
In short, Chicago never disappoints. From the first honky-tonk notes to the one-of-a-kind curtain call in which the cast is introduced by name, audiences are guaranteed musical theatre perfection wrapped up in a sexy/sassy good time.
“There’s enough stuff out there to bog you down, but this show’s pure entertainment,” concludes Ryan. “Just let go of the world for two-and-a-half hours and then dance yourselves out the door. It’s what we’re here for, baby.”
Chicago is playing at Broadway’s Ambassador Theatre, 210 W. 49th St. For reservations call 212-239-6200 or click here.